Maria Chandra is a social change activist as well as the Founder and CEO of CAREE, an international nonprofit organization aiming to raise disability awareness, especially among youths, and to educate society through CAREE’s platforms and programs, with the hope of minimizing discrimination against people with disability, changing disability stigma, and fostering an understanding of the disability communities.
CAREE has educated a total of more than 39,000 people from across the world and carried out three national campaigns that reached more than 700 activists from all over Indonesia. CAREE also conducted 5 main programs with a total of 1400 participants and a membership program with a total of over 200 members. Moreover, in less than six months, CAREE raised over 7 million rupiah, which has benefited four disability communities.
Maria also volunteers as an Outreach Director, Public Relations Manager, and External Project Manager at 5 other organizations. Aside from being a social change activist, Maria is also interested in STEM. She has many achievements in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, and Computer Science. She has won many national and international competitions such as the Southeast Asian Mathematical Olympiad.
She received many STEM related certifications from top universities such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and University of Chicago. She is a College for All Scholar and was a Student Researcher at the International High School Journal of Research focusing on researching “Understanding Epigenetic Silencing to Treat Diseases”
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We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Maria Chandra: Hi!
I’m a 16-year-old social change activist as well as the Founder and CEO of CAREE, an international nonprofit organization aiming to raise disability awareness, especially among youths, and to educate society through CAREE’s platforms and programs, with the hope of minimizing discrimination against people with disability, changing disability stigma, and fostering an understanding of the disability communities.
I founded CAREE because I have a brother who has an intellectual disability and autism. I grew up watching my brother being discriminated against by his friends, teachers, and the people around him. I noticed that this doesn’t only happen to my brother, but to other people with disabilities as well. When I researched more about it, I found that stigma is the main cause of discriminated and inaccessibility. Then, I was diagnosed with bipolar, a psychiatric disability, and I experienced first hand how damaging stigma can be. So it motivates me to keep going because I want to advocate not only for myself and my brother, but also for other people with disabilities as well.
CAREE’s mission is to establish an inclusive working system with diverse members from across the globe in order to educate more people, to empower and facilitate youths with topics regarding disability and everything in between, and to strategically plan educational programs that can raise disability awareness. CAREE currently has 42 board members divided into five divisions: Project Management, Writing, Creative Team, Public Relations, Marketing. CAREE partnered with a lot of top companies and universities from around the world such as: Ray White Alam Sutera, Thred Media, Campaign.com, and Malang State University.
So far, CAREE has reached a total of more than 39,000 people from around the world. We organized three nationwide campaigns that reached more than 700 people from across Indonesia. Besides that, we fundraised over 7 million rupiah through which we donated to four disability communities.
I am also passionate about STEM, especially about biochemistry as my dream is to become a medical scientist. I got several credentials from Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, and many other colleges throughout the world, which I used as a starting point for realizing my dreams. I also won several regional, national, and international competitions, including ICAS and SEAMO.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Maria Chandra: I’ve learnt to adjust to the digitalization era as technology advances. In 2022, social media is one of the most important tools for business growth. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others are being used by businesses to develop their brands, draw in clients, solicit client feedback, and foster client loyalty. Companies should keep an eye out for the newest technologies to avoid falling behind in the current day.
In addition to leveraging social media, businesses must pay attention to the opinions of their customers, clients, and employees. A corporation may have the most incredible product when it pays attention to its customers. Additionally, for any organization or business to flourish, good audience listening is crucial. It helps build rapport, foster connections, increase loyalty, and improve direct development, which contribute to a stronger, longer-lasting company.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Maria Chandra: Examine the ‘blueprint’ of your businesses and see which areas you can improve and retain. Looking at the basis of a business is beneficial to determine which areas you should adapt to meet the current economy and avoid falling behind.
With your team, talk about how you can approach things differently and make a strategy for your next step. Businesses have challenges when the economy is disrupted during a pandemic, but you shouldn’t let these challenges compromise the standard of your services. Keep your company’s foundation and vision in mind at all times, and work closely with your team to adjust to the circumstances.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Maria Chandra: I started making plans to launch my nonprofit organization just before the pandemic. My nonprofit’s primary goal was supposed to focus on organizing offline events to help people with disabilities such as organizing offline campaigns, teaching students with disabilities, and developing an offline sign language program. I was overjoyed to finally start CAREE after having established the vision and objective of my business.
When the virus began to spread rapidly in Indonesia in March 2020 and quarantines were ordered, I questioned whether I could still have an influence given that everything was being done online. I understand that I must take a moment and contemplate how my organization will have an effect. I made the decision to start hiring board members.
I was surprised to see 1,300 applications from individuals all around the world for the post. I started the selection process, and CAREE now has 42 board members. Together, we started formulating our new plans, and we spoke with Campaign.com, one of the biggest companies in Indonesia. After receiving approval for our plan, partnered with Campaign.com, we launched our first online, national campaign.
We then continue to plan influential online events including conferences, online debating competitions, online fundraising events, and online sign language workshops. In the end, everything works out; not even a pandemic can thwart my desire to aid those in need.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Maria Chandra: I wish I had known that instead of complaining about the pandemic, I should realize that pandemic broadens perspective. By accident, we frequently allow life to become monotonous and uninteresting.
The pandemic forces you to utilize your imagination, which broadens your viewpoint. While you struggle with the difficulties of the pandemic, your imagination helps you envision a bearable future. I intend to continuously broaden my perspective not only to help me to become a better person, but also to help grow my business in a positive direction.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Maria Chandra: Firstly, I expect my business to grow and partner with at least five more companies and universities from across the world to fund our projects. I also expect that CAREE could help more people with disabilities by fundraising and organizing campaigns.
Secondly, I expect to spend more money on social media advertising in order to promote my work. Social media has billions of users, so it is one of the most effective ways of promoting a business. I will focus on a multi-channel organic approach to build an audience and brand awareness.
Thirdly, I expect to deepen my passion for STEM by continuing to get certifications from other top universities in the world and participating in more international competitions. I also expect to get a chance to become a student researcher again and research something biochemistry related again.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Maria Chandra: Since the pandemic, nearly all of my work is done virtually. I also frequently have meetings with board members from abroad and prospective community partners. In average, I spend around 10 hours between my laptop, iPad, and phone.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Maria Chandra: Whenever I want to motivate my colleagues or connect with potential partners, the first thing I do is to tell them the story of my brother and I and explain why I do what I do. Potential partners are mostly moved by my story, and if they aren’t, then we are not a good fit for each other. Also, since the bond between colleagues at my NGO is so tight, every day we share about our day which inspires us to keep moving toward our goals since we like our working environment.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Maria Chandra: As the pandemic affects the economy, the amount of funding provided by business associates is much lower. Thousands of industries are forced to undergo bankruptcy, which leads to an increasing unemployment rate. Moreover, inflation is much higher than before. Businesses will face inflation throughout the year, which will have an impact on sales through decreasing consumer income and expenditure.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Maria Chandra: I wish to learn data and IT security. In this digitalization era, I believe that data security is important to a business since it prevents cybercrime. I think employees should get to know different security threats ranging from IoT attacks, malware attacks to phishing.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Maria Chandra: Instead of dismissing employee criticism, a great leader would speak with them and listen to it. In order to improve as a leader and foster a more welcome and friendly workplace, effective leaders also take time to reflect on their own performance.
The industry is now developing quickly, therefore a leader who does not consult with their team to plan the next steps and challenge the data is at a disadvantage. A great worker should not be forced to work, they should have alternatives, and should anticipate working with outstanding leaders.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Maria Chandra: I would pick the ability to LISTEN to comments from my employees, business associates, and clients and always have the correct response and answer. Listening to employees will boost their engagement, initiative, and innovation since they will feel heard and respected. Listening to feedback is also one of the ways that we can improve our business and motivate us to work together to create a new plan.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Maria Chandra: Personally, I aim to continue having the passion to help other people and even animals in need. I would like to score an A* in my AS and A-level, especially in the STEM subjects.
On a business level, I wish CAREE would organize more campaigns and fundraisers this year in order to help more people with disabilities. I also wish that we could start our teaching program where we teach different subjects to students with disabilities.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Maria Chandra for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Maria Chandra or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.